The European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) is the ESA's
centre for space science, which means Astronomy as well as Solar System exploration. It is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, close to Madrid
and hosts the science operation centres for all ESA astronomy and planetary missions together with their scientific archives.
Space telescopes are humankind’s eyes in the heavens: from their superior observing positions high above the Earth’s atmosphere, they provide us with astounding views of the Universe. ESAC is where those views are first studied – data on black holes and distant galaxies, from neighbouring planets and even from planets far beyond the Solar System are beamed back to the Madrid countryside. ESAC is thereby the ‘home’ of ESA’s space-telescope and planetary missions, the place from where their science operations are conducted, and where all of the scientific data that they produce are archived and made accessible to the world. ESAC is therefore one of ESA’s centres of excellence for space science.
ESA’s deep-space antenna in Europe, located in Cebreros, Avila, is an essential support to the activities of ESAC. Inaugurated in September 2005, Cebreros features a new, highly accurate pointing control system and a 35-metre antenna that allow ESA to gather data from distant missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars and beyond.
But other activities are also carried out at ESAC. In the near future it will host the Data Processing Ground Centre for ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, scheduled to be launched in 2007.
ESAC is also involved in ESA missions conducted in collaboration with other space agencies. One example is Akari, a Japanese-led mission to carry out an infrared sky survey, launched on 21 February 2006. Future collaborative programmes also include the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
In addition, ESAC also hosts the Spanish Laboratory for Space Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics (LAEFF), an innovative research facility aimed mainly at encouraging young Spanish scientists to enter the fields of astrophysics and fundamental physics.
The ESAC centre in Villafranca del Castillo, within the town limits of Villanueva de la Cañada, is located 30 km west of Madrid in the Guadarrama Valley. Evergreen oaks and the ruins of a nearby 15th century castle make a spectacular backdrop for the high-tech vista of ESA's large antennas and modern buildings. The Cebreros site is in Avila, about 90 km from Madrid and 65 km from ESAC.